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And Maybe A Little Bit Wiser

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John woke slowly, warm and logy from sleeping longer than he had in a long time. The bedside clock said 8:15 -- even if it had been almost 1 am before they had gone to bed, it was later than he had been able to sleep recently.

He got up and used the attached bathroom. It was small but boasted a shower that he decided to take advantage of.

After toweling off, he frowned slightly at the day old clothes he had to put back on. Not that he hadn't done worse at more than one point while in the service, but he had gotten used to clean underwear daily. Something of a minor luxury in his life that he finally had control over.

John wandered past Rodney's door, acutely conscious of the man that probably was still sleeping there -- a thought he didn't want to examine too closely. It was quiet, so he assumed the girls were still sleeping. He saw the bright orange sticky note that said, "Turn me on for coffee" with a smiley face, and did so.

While the coffee brewed, he got the milk out of the fridge and debated for a moment. He went to the pantry where Rodney had found the pies last night and found shelves of food. He took the box of Cheerios he found and then had to poke through the cabinets for a bowl. He found coffee cups at the same time.

He sat in the peaceful silence as he ate a bowl of cereal and drank a cup of the very good coffee. John wasn't a coffee snob, but he knew enough to appreciate full flavored, good coffee when he got it. Decaf wasn't just the same, and since the docs had said to limit caffeine, he had avoided coffee all together.

A burbling sound that was probably a cell phone came from somewhere. John heard one of the girls answer it, and then the voice turned sharp. He couldn't hear what was being said, but the tone wasn't happy. There was some discussion between the two girls and then they came out to the kitchen.

"Mr S! Good morning," Norah said. Donna had the frown on her face, so she must have been the one getting the bad news. "Was hoping you were my dad," she apologized.

"Sorry," he replied. "I haven't seen him yet."

"Probably still sleeping," she shrugged. "I'll be right back."

John poked at the box of cereal. "Cheerios?" he asked Donna.

"Um.. I'll wait," she said, sitting heavily in a chair with a gloomy air.

Norah was back quickly. "Give him five minutes," she said. She turned on the oven and pulled a covered pan out of the refrigerator. "Baked oatmeal," she explained. "It's supposed to be a treat, so I only make it once in a while."

"Not hungry," Donna pouted.

"No problem," Norah obviously knew her friend well enough to roll with the bad mood.

In less than the promised five minutes, Rodney came in. "What's up?"

Donna sighed. "I'm really, really sorry, but I can't go home today," she said in a rush. "Maybe tomorrow. I need to stay."

Rodney's face flickered with... something that John wanted to ask about but knew wasn't his business. He smiled for the girls. "Not a problem!" he enthused. Then frowned as he looked at John. "Umm... that means you're stuck, too. Do you need to be anyplace?"

John shrugged. "I can still walk to.."

Norah looked out the window and said, "Not in that mess!"

John looked out in dismay at the inch of slush on the ground and what would be icy cold precipitation coming down. "I can..."

"Do you need to be anyplace?" Rodney asked again, patiently.

Giving in, John admitted, "No, not really."

"You'll stay?" Rodney asked. "Should be only another night."

Looking at the hopeful look in Norah's eyes, John knew he was screwed. "I'll stay," he agreed.

There was a squeal and Norah threw herself at him to give a quick hug. The girls scampered off to go upstairs. Norah turned around for a moment, "The oatmeal will be ready in about half an hour. Be ready for breakfast."

"I already..." John pointed helplessly at the box of Cheerios.

"Oh, there's always more food. And thanks for making that easier," Rodney said.

"Anything I can do to help?" John asked, not sure what he was getting into.

Rodney debated for a moment, "Not really, but you do need to know a little. Donna, obviously, has an... shall we say interesting home environment. She lives with her mom, no dad, and her mom had to work over the holiday, which is why she's here. She needs to be careful about what she does and where she goes. But, well, more than that, I can't tell you."

John guessed there might be some abuse there, but what kind was endless. Or maybe something domestic between the parents, even if the dad isn't in the picture. Oh, well, not really his problem. He was warm, dry and with some people who might be good friends.

John went back upstairs to his ro-... to the guest room. He decided to use the straight razor Norah had dug out from somewhere last night to shave before he had what would be a second breakfast. He grinned. Second breakfast -- just like a Hobbit!

Going back to the kitchen, John looked out the window. The 'rain' was still coming down, although it was as much slush as water. It was starting to build up. He wriggled his toes in his sneakers. He'd have to get warm boots sooner than he had thought. Maybe Rodney and Norah could point him at an inexpensive shoe store where he could get boots.

It wasn't long before Rodney came back down, hair slicked back from what had to be a quick shower.

"Eggs?" Rodney asked, getting a pan out of a cabinet.

"I thought you weren't allowed to cook," John teased.

"Gravy," Rodney shot back. "I'm not allowed to make gravy. I certainly can make scrambled eggs."

"The oatmeal sounded interesting," John countered.

"I'll make eggs," Rodney declared. "I know the girls will eat some, even if only to be polite." He nodded toward the fridge. "There should be bagels in the freezer, if you want."

"Will anyone else want one?" John asked. "I'm not sure we need anything else."

Rodney shrugged. "I'll eat the oatmeal, too. So maybe just eggs and oatmeal."

"I already had cereal," John offered. "Not sure I'm really hungry."

"Don't even think about not eating something," Rodney warned him. "The girls will fuss."

And you will, too, John thought. It was a pleasant, if faintly scary, thought.

The timer on the oven went off before the girls reappeared. Rodney went to check on the oatmeal and looked at it dubiously.

"I never know when this is done," he complained. He closed the oven door and put another five minutes on the timer.

"I can set the table," John offered, not sure what else to do.

"Sure, go ahead," Rodney directed. He was breaking eggs into a bowl. "Girls should be ready shortly."

John got plates, silverware and glasses on the table. He thought for a moment and then looked in the pantry for paper napkins.

"Will Norah or Donna drink coffee?" John asked.

"Nah, but I'll have some," Rodney replied. He was beating the eggs, adding salt and pepper. John could smell butter melting.

Norah came hustling back, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. She checked the oven and decided that the oatmeal was done. "How much longer to the eggs?" she asked.

"Just started," Rodney replied, stirring the eggs carefully.

"Put some juice and milk on the table," Norah said to John. "Donna may or may not want coffee, put some mugs out, please?"

"Think we need bagels?" Rodney asked.

Norah looked over his shoulder at the eggs. "You probably have most of a dozen of eggs there," she said. "And with the oatmeal, it should be plenty."

John's second breakfast was noisy in a good way. Norah and Rodney bantered back and forth, drawing Donna and John into the conversation. The oatmeal was a great success, having blueberries, bananas and nuts to make it as much of a treat as a breakfast food.

"It calls for walnuts, but I like to use pecans," Norah explained. "But I could eat the just about every day."

"It is good," John had to admit. Norah dimpled at the compliment.

Everyone helped clean up and when everything was done, Norah asked prettily, "Play with us?"

"Norah!" Rodney groaned.

"Come on," she begged. "There's nothing watchable on tv and you can grade papers later," she said. "We'll go easy on you."

"Ha!" Rodney snorted. He looked at John. "We have a Wii.. it's like playing against pool sharks, as a warning."

John shrugged. "Don't know any of the games," he temporized.

"Bowling! We can play bowling!" Norah said. "It's not hard. Really."

"Think we can take them?" John teased.

"No, not really," Rodney said. "But it is better than grading papers."

"Yes!" Norah punched the air. She grabbed Donna's hand and they raced to the family room.

"One more cup of coffee!" Rodney called after them. He got his coffee and sat at the table. "It beats fighting the crowds at the stores today and, well, I suspect there won't be a lot more years that Norah will be home."

"Enjoy it while you can," John agreed. He had his daily limit of coffee at this point and poured himself some juice to keep Rodney company.

Donna seemed to cheer up with the Wii competition. She and Norah had set up an avatar for John and eagerly explained the minimal rules and how to use the hand controller.

John looked around the family room. He hadn't realized there were so many windows yesterday, the shades evidently all had been drawn. With the gloomy day today, the shades were up, revealing windows on two opposite walls. The family room was essentially a 'wing' of the house with three outside walls. It would be even brighter on a sunny day but, with the gloom, the shades weren't needed to be able to use the tv.

Wii bowling wasn't all that hard, John realized, but Rodney was pretty bad at it. He didn't have enough hand-eye coordination to score well consistently. The two girls either were naturals or, more likely, had played the game enough to know how to do well.

John picked it up quickly. It really wasn't hard, and he did well enough to keep him and Rodney in the game.

They had lost one game to the girls and Norah and Donna were doing a celebration dance when it happened.

There was a tinkle of glass and a whump that took John the eternity of a heartbeat to recognize. He sprung at the two girls, wrapping an arm around each and wrestled them to the floor. He twisted so as not land on top of them but he that meant he landed hard on his bad hip. He growled at Rodney, "Down! On the floor! NOW!"

Rodney looked at him blankly but another tinkling sound of breaking glass and a solid thunk of something hitting somewhere close made finally Rodney drop to the floor.

The girls squealed in protest in John's arms and he gripped them tighter. "Stop it. This isn't funny."

Norah gasped once and stilled.

"Where's your phone?" John asked urgently.

"Over there," Norah nodded off to the other side of the room.

"Mine's in that bag," Donna pointed to a duffle bag just out of reach.

"Stay against the couch and don't move!" John commanded. He looked at Rodney who was white but not obviously panicking. "The couch should provide a layer of protection."

"The remote for the windows," Rodney said urgently. "Where is it?"

Norah frowned. "On the fireplace, where it always is."

"Shit," Rodney swore. That was on the opposite end of the room, high up on the wall.

Another tinkle of glass and a thunk. From a different angle and lower. John decided, "Okay, we need to move, we're too exposed here. You need to stay as low to the ground as you can and let the furniture protect us as much as possible."

They all looked at him solemnly. "Rodney, you first. To the kitchen and stay low, away from the windows. Once you're there, move to the pantry since there are no windows there."

"Brick on the outside there," Rodney put in. "It'll give us more protection."

"Good," John approved. "Then Donna and then Norah. I'll grab the bag as I bring up the rear."

"There's a phone in the kitchen," Rodney put in.

"Have to assume that the lines are probably down," John said. "We have a better chance with the cell phone. And it's more important to get to a protected location."

"Okay," Rodney agreed.

"Go!" John commanded. He watched in approval as Rodney dragged himself along the floor to the kitchen. As he cleared the door, he let Donna go with a small push. "You next." When Donna had cleared the door, he nudged Norah, "You now. You're doing good."

"Thanks. I think," she muttered. She followed the other two.

John took a deep breath and moved across the open space to grab the bag Donna had indicated. Another tinkle and thud happened as he moved in an unprotected space. Once he had the bag he rolled back to the cover the couch offered and took a deep breath before he dragged himself to the kitchen.

The other three were already in the pantry, fortunately. Rodney had moved the girls to the rear of the small space. He handed Rodney the phone. "Call 911," he ordered. "Tell them shots fired. That should get their attention."

Rodney focused on dialing the unfamiliar phone. John eased forward just in front of the entry to the pantry.

"What are you doing?" Norah hissed at him.

"Shh..." John said.

He could hear Norah roll her eyes. But he wanted to listen in case anyone was trying to actually break into the house. They were in the most defensible position he could find, and if anyone was in the house, they'd have to go through him to get to the others.

He could hear Rodney's not-quite-frantic voice talking to the 911 operator. It was probably the standard "we'll stay on the line with you" response that seemed to be the standard operating procedure of police departments everywhere.

It wasn't long before the sound of multiple sirens coming fast let them know the police were coming. It would definitely scare off whoever was out there, but, by then, John was glad for that.

"There should be an Officer Malloy coming to the front door," Rodney said. "He'll have his ID out for you."

"Stay here," John commanded. He looked at them. "I mean it."

"We will," Rodney promised.